National Teacher Day is today, and many professors and teaching assistants like Andrew Cavaness, a mathematics graduate teaching assistant, are reflecting on the challenges of teaching and why the wanted to become a teacher.

Cavaness was a professor at a community college where he taught math for three semesters before becoming a graduate teaching assistant. He said the more he taught the more he realized he liked it, and his experience leading a classroom has given him a different perspective about what it means to be a teacher.

He remembers thinking as an undergraduate that he was just a number in the classroom, but now he knows that’s not true.

Cavaness teaches 70 students in his Calculus II course, and he said he actually takes the time to look around and remember everybody’s name. He said he notices when students are sleeping or texting in class.

“The teacher is aware of every student, and that was the biggest revelation to me,” Cavaness said.

Cavaness said one of the difficult challenges that comes with teaching is how to go about taking the role of authority that what he says can be trusted. He said that because he is a teacher and still a student, he can relate to students and empathize with them.

Cavaness likes structure but also personalization when it comes to teaching. One of the professors that he admires is associate professor Gaik Ambartsoumian. He likes that Ambartsoumian makes the class more of a discussion where students can ask questions.

“We would still get what we needed to know but learn different ways to solve problems,” Cavaness said. “It felt like he had the book memorized, and he was able to put it into his own words, and I admired that.”

Ambartsoumian said he comes from a family of teachers. His mother, grandmother and his grandfather are teachers. He said he has always had a love for math ever since elementary.

Ambartsoumian said he knew he wanted a career in math and decided to become a professor because he enjoyed both teaching and research.

What he likes the most about teaching is that it is rewarding and one of the few things that he doesn’t regret. By doing this, he said he is helping people learn and advance.

When Ambartsoumian was a student, he said he felt his professor spent more time writing things on the board that were already in the book. What he does instead is prepares electronic slides with things that are in the book and spends more time on class discussions, which he said is unusual for math courses but necessary.

“I like interaction, so I will call on students’ names, which makes it hard for them to fall asleep in my class,” Ambartsoumian said.

Ambartsoumian said a good teacher has to know what they are talking about and be enthusiastic. They also have to have some personality. A professor who stops and tells a joke or a story will make the lectures more enjoyable for the students.

Spencer Lunderman is a graduate student who takes high theoretical mathematics courses, and he said the topics they discuss are difficult to understand and explain.

“What Dr. Ambartsoumian does very well is he makes sure that the class understands what is going on before moving on to the next topic,” Lunderman said.

Lunderman said Ambartsoumian is among one of the outstanding professors in the mathematics department.

“He sat me down and talked with me, even though he didn’t know me or that I was going to be in his class,” Lunderman said. “He asked me what my aspirations were and took the time to get to know me.”

Lunderman said Ambartsoumian was one of the reasons he was able to get into the University of Arizona’s graduate program.

“If I’m half as effective as Ambartsoumian, I will count myself a success,” Lunderman said.

@jess_days

Jessica.diaz@mavs.uta.edu

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